Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer that may spread to the brain. As a matter of fact, at least 40% of people suffering from lung cancer end up with cancer that spreads to the brain. This is termed "lung cancer metastatic to the brain", not brain cancer which only means cancer starts in the brain tissues. Both the small cell lung cancer and the non-small cell lung cancer are capable of spreading to the brain. However, the former spreads to the brain much faster than the later. Therefore, if you are suffering from lung cancer, there is likelihood that you will get brain metastases.

How Does Lung Cancer Spread to Brain?

Normally, cancer cells may break away from the tumor and travel through the lymph system, blood circulation and invade the brain. This process takes place in various steps:

  • Local invasion: At this stage, the cancer cells attack the normal tissues nearby;

  • Intravasation: In this phase, the cancer cells intrude into the blood vessels and lymph vessels;

  • Circulation: These cancerous cells then travel through the lymph system and the blood circulation system to other parts of the body;

  • Arrest and extravasation: when these cells reach the capillaries, they stop moving, attack the capillary walls and move to the neighboring tissues;

  • Proliferation: Then at these distant areas these cancer cells multiply to form small tumors referred to as micro metastases;

  • Angiogenesis: During this phase, the small tumors stimulate the growth of new blood vessels to get enough blood supply, oxygen and nutrient for their growth.

Have you ever wondered why lung cancer or other types of cancers can spread to the brain? Watch the following video to find out the answers: 

How Do I Know If Lung Cancer Has Spread to Brain?

Symptoms of Lung Cancer Spread to Brain

Lung cancer that spreads to the brain prompts various symptoms by creating inflammation and destroying brain tissue. Depending on the affected brain part, the general health status of the patient and the number of tumors in the brain, symptoms of lung cancer that advanced to the brain may vary. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Memory loss

  • Changes in personality

  • Experiencing weakness of certain part of the body

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Loss of balance and coordination

  • Wanting to throw up

  • Seizures

  • Difficulty in speak and walk

  • Vision loss, double vision and other vision problems

Ways of Diagnosing Lung Cancer Spread to Brain

When a doctor suspects that Lung cancer has spread to the brain, he or she will perform the following tests to confirm it.

  • CT scan/MRI

A CT scan or MRI test is conducted on the head to verify the presence of metastases in the brain. For this propose, the MRI is more accurate as compared to the CT scan, however this method may not be effective if you have devices like the pacemaker installed in your body, which affect the magnetic field and interfere with the test results.

  • PET scan

This is another test that may be conducted to verify the spread of lung cancer to the brain. This scan uses a radiological study to identify actively growing cancer cells in the brain. In other cases, a biopsy may also be conducted to examine the cells in the brain. This is especially when the source of the cancer is uncertain.

What to Do When Lung Cancer Spread to Brain


Brain Radiotherapy

This treatment is mostly used when there are more than three tumors in the brain or some of the tumors in the brain cannot be seen. Additionally, brain radiotherapy may also be used to reduce the risk of other brain metastases developing after other treatments like surgery. This treatment is not meant to cure the disease, but rather to reduce the symptoms. The method is associated with some side effects, such as skin rashes, fatigue and memory loss, especially verbal memory.


Stereotactic Radiotherapy

This therapy, also referred to as Cyberknife or Gamma Knife, gives a high radiation dose to a certain area of the brain. As compared to the brain radiotherapy, this method comes with fewer side effects because only a small portion of the brain is exposed to radiation. This treatment is particularly conducted in cases where no more than three tumors exist in the brain.



If lung cancer that spreads to the brain only forms one tumor, if the tumor is ease to reach and if this lung cancer doesn't spread to other body parts, then surgery may be applied. Other than removing the tumor, surgery may also be conducted to reduce the size of the tumor. This helps to relieve the symptoms of brain metastases. In most cases, surgery is followed with a whole-brain radiation to promote better outcome. This kind of treatment is mostly conducted on non-small cell lung cancers.



Basically, this method has been found to be less effective in removing brain metastases from lung cancer mainly because of the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells that prevents poisons from getting into the brain. A number of medications, including radio sensitizers, are being evaluated in clinical trials to find out their effects on brain metastases. These medications are supposed to make these cells more vulnerable to radiation treatments.


Comfort Care

There are many other ways that can provide comfort and ease the symptoms of lung cancer that has spread to the brain. Pain medications can minimize headaches. Additionally, you may also use occupational and physical therapy can improve the independence and functioning of the patients. Other cancer centers today are using complementary treatments such as acupuncture and massage to counter the anxiety and symptoms associated with brain metastases.


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